Mental health in construction was the key theme behind a show garden that scooped two prestigious awards at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park in July.

The garden, named ‘Constructing Minds’, was the brainchild of garden designer Carolyn Hardern and landscaper Jon Jarvis, helped by Leeds College of Building apprentices and supported by Band of Builders, and aimed to highlight wellbeing and mental health within the construction industry.

It went on show at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park on July 19th, where it was awarded the Best Show Garden and an RHS Silver Gilt Medal, and is also set to appear on the BBC’s Gardeners’ World programme.

The 20m x 14m garden integrates trees, ferns and wildflower areas to create a sense of enclosure and refuge. It also incorporates materials found on construction sites, such as concrete and scaffold boards.

The finished creation includes a consultation glade (a therapeutic space for counselling), a reflective pool, a safe inner sanctuary space planted with pockets of wildflowers, external walls to reduce noise, and custom-made loungers to encourage the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) - time spent immersed in nature to rejuvenate and restore oneself.

The garden features references to the shocking suicide figures in the construction industry, which now stands at 34 in every 100,000 - the highest suicide rate of any industry.

Motivated by the shocking statistics, Painting & Decorating apprentices at Leeds College of Building agreed to spray paint 700 assorted wooden hearts the colour of hard hats. In addition, the wall to the left of the entrance into The Inner Sanctuary incorporates a metal panel perforated with 507 number holes representing the number of suicides in the UK construction industry in 2021.

Nikki Davis, Principal & CEO of Leeds College of Building, explained: “Carolyn first approached the college given our status as the only specialist general further education construction college in the UK.

“We were happy to lend a hand, given the importance of this topic. Data shows that an estimated 700 workers in construction sadly took their own lives during 2022, which is well above the average of any other sector in the UK and up significantly from the previous year.”

She added: “We were delighted to work with Carolyn and Jon to get more people talking about mental health in construction. Leeds College of Building’s South Bank Campus is already a venue for Andy’s Man Club – the men’s suicide prevention charity – and projects like this incredible garden are vital for raising awareness in the general public and signposting critical support.”

Jon said: “After looking at the statistics of mental health in construction, Carolyn and I devoted our own time to raising awareness about this devastating topic. This is the biggest garden at RHS Tatton Park this year, providing a green space to breathe and disconnect from negative thoughts. We hope to get people talking to reduce stigma and understand how green spaces can promote positive mental health.”

Jon and Carolyn also asked Band of Builders for help to appeal for sponsorship for the Constructing Minds garden, which was supported by industry partners including landscaping companies Ashlea Ltd and The Landscape Academy at Great Barrow, as well as landscaping supplier Talasey Group, who were among supporters to give in-kind support such as machine hire, materials, and labour.

Gavin Crane, CEO of Band of Builders, which earlier this year expanded its counselling service for tradespeople in a bid to halt the rising suicide rate amongst UK construction industry workers after it increased for the fifth year in a row, said it was a privilege to have been able to support the creation of the garden.

He said: “It’s no secret that Band of Builders sees mental health as one of the biggest threats to our industry, and we want to do everything we can to highlight the crisis and raise awareness so changes can be made to protect tradespeople and their families.

“The garden is a hugely creative and innovative way to do this, and on top of that has engaged the next generation of tradesmen and women through Leeds College of Building. A huge thanks to the college and to Jon and Carolyn for helping highlight this issue.”

After the show, the legacy garden will move to Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Wirral, which offers outpatient chemotherapy, radiotherapy, diagnostic and cancer support services for local patients.

Carolyn and Jon are now seeking donations to help cover the costs of relocating the project. Any monies left over from the build and relocation will be given to Band of Builders and Mates in Mind, which is also dedicated to improving mental health and wellbeing in construction across the UK.

Carolyn added: “We hope this will become a space for visitors and patients to enjoy tranquillity and calm when they may need it most.”

Carolyn and Jon are asking for donations via the project’s GoFundMe page.

Carolyn and Jon have been designing award-winning gardens and landscapes for many years. Jon is a mental health first aider, and both are passionate about promoting mental health and the work of Band of Builders and Mates in Mind.

To find out more, visit the Constructing Minds Show Garden website or Instagram page. Painting & Decorating apprenticeship information is on the Leeds College of Building website.